[Sustainability Agenda] This startup aims to make travel to Northeast India carbon neutral
Through WhatsApp alone, Encamp Adventures has been able to create travel itineraries for over 6,000 travellers interested in exploring the Northeast.
“The Northeast is very blessed in terms of food and culture but it is not very accessible to many travellers because of the lack of infrastructure and [guidance] for travellers,” says Ratan Ghimire. Keen on solving that issue sustainably, Ratan and his team set up, a travel tech platform, in August 2018. Although his parents wanted him to be an engineer, he was keen on taking a different path. He pursued a BBA and an MBA and worked in market research before embarking on his entrepreneurial journey.
Registered in Assam, the startup’s first initiative was the Ziro Music Festival, an outdoor event held in the Ziro Valley of Arunachal Pradesh. “We hosted just 50 people in the first year and the experience we had encouraged us to take [our vision] forward,” he says.
The first steps included building ‘alternative accommodations,’ which featured tents pitched at campsites, allowing visitors to experience the destination in a more holistic way.
To make these adventures more sustainable, Encamp also educates people on best practices. Among other recommendations, travellers are asked to bring their own cutlery and not carry single-use plastic bags during the course of their stay.
Today, Encamp has campsites in unique locations such as Ziro, Kohima and Meghalaya. Depending on the location and amenities, the stay costs start at around Rs 1,200 per person.
In 2019, Encamp ventured into building customised travel itineraries. WhatsApp has been the startup’s primary mode of connection through which it has been able to serve over 6,000 people so far. Within two years of operations, Encamp has managed to cross the Rs 1 crore in revenue.
The travel industry came to a grinding halt when COVID-19 hit the country.
For Ratan, the lockdown was a “blessing in disguise.” The Encamp team used the time to build a digital travel assistant. “This enables people to travel how they want,” Ratan explains. This AI-powered conversational platform allows people to develop itineraries that tend towards being carbon-neutral.
Sustainability as a service
From their customer discovery exercises, Ratan and his team of twelve have learned that the number of people who care about sustainability is on the rise. They noted that people are more concerned about ‘looking or feeling good’ about their actions.
Encamp is also in the process of building a carbon footprint calculator, which helps travellers be more mindful about the impact that their travel has on the environment. It also provides suggestions as to how travellers can help the environment. For example, if a person is booking a three-stop flight, the tool would show that a flight with fewer stops is better from an environmental perspective.
”We’ve initiated a reduction measure, an awareness measure and we’re also providing choices to offset the impact,” Ratan explains.
The tool that Encamp is developing along with the calculator measures the total carbon footprint of the entire travel duration and shows the value to the user. They are then shown a range of options for climate action projects such as afforestation initiatives that they can contribute to. This mandatory contribution which could start at Rs 500 is levied upon the traveller to offset the emissions thus making carbon neutrality a possibility. Encamp is also creating a dashboard that showcases the progress of each of these climate action projects to show people how their contributions have helped. They are looking to take this live by the end of the year.
The startup has so far received support from several initiatives including Startup Assam, Atal Incubation Centre and the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship.
Connecting the community
Flush with natural beauty and pristine landscapes, the Northeast of India is a largely unexplored region. Encamp hopes to change that.
With a vision to empower the local community, Encamp has nearly 500 local partners. Located in extremely remote places, they are a key part of the company’s operations.
“We develop these places, create infrastructure and promote them,” Ratan remarks. From marketing to guest handling and revenue management is carried out by the company with a revenue-sharing business model.
“Our revenue comes from the commissions that we get, the revenue management services that we provide our partners,” he says, adding that the company also owns and operates some of the campsites as well.
Surge in travel
Although travel has picked up now with states ending COVID-19-related lockdowns, there are still concerns about a potential third wave. Currently, most state governments insist that travellers furnish a negative RT-PCR test or proof of full vaccination before entry. Encamp also has its own measures to promote COVID-19 safety.
Ratan shares that most of the homestays check for vaccination certificates or negative RTPCR before admission, the 50 percent occupancy rule is also being followed to ensure lesser crowding. At tourist spots, travellers who are part of groups are requested to maintain social distancing from other visitors.
“Being an outdoor experience provider we are in the open and thus able to mitigate the risk better than concrete accommodation spaces like hotels,” Ratan adds.
He believes that this is one of the reasons they have witnessed multifold growth in booking requests over the past few months.
From a macro perspective as well, Ratan feels that tourism is seeing a shift in not just individual attitudes but also interest from corporates and governments in moving towards sustainable alternatives. Right from the UN which has set Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 to facilitate climate action, policies are slowly being put in place to negative environmental impact.
Encamp believes that when these policies start trickling down to the execution level, they will be among the front runners implementing tangible change.
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Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti